About Hacking

by Nellie Day

Hackers are highly skilled computer gurus who break into computer systems for a variety of reasons, from financial gain to just for the fun of a challenge. Despite these activities being illegal, the hacker community has maintained momentum for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.


Hacking is an activity that is engaged in by people who use their knowledge of the internet, computers, firewalls and security preferences to break into other people's computers, allowing them to view private information, alter data and steal files, information or programs. MySpace pages, software applications and email accounts are the most common programs that are hacked into. Hackers typically look for passwords or credit card information. Some will simply hack into these programs in order to change information, such as a screen name, password or other content that is written by the owner.


Hackers are sometimes motivated by greed and steal personal information in order to take on someone's identity for their own gain, or in politics, where they try to exploit, blackmail or otherwise expose someone in power, or even just for entertainment, where hackers simply want to see what they are capable of doing. These types of hackers usually brag about their conquests on message boards or instant messaging programs, competing with fellow hackers as to who is the best among them.


The first case of hacking occurred in the 1960s when a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tried to access the school's main computing systems. In the 1970s, "phone phreaks" hacked into telephone networks and made toll-free calls. Mainstream computer hacking as we know it today gained momentum in the 1980s when hackers broke into what would now be considered message boards. Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986, which made it illegal for anyone to break into anyone else's computer system. Despite the law, the 1990s saw the invention of the Trojan Horse, which allowed hackers to access any computer that downloaded the program. Many companies were hacked into as well, such as AOL, Yahoo!, Amazon and eBay.


There are at least five main types of hackers. A hacktivist uses his hacker skills in order to broadcast a political message on the Internet. A cyberterrorist commits acts out of a desire to wreak havoc and cause harm to groups who he feels oppose him and his beliefs. A black hat typically breaks into a network in order to obtain information that will allow him to commit fraud or theft. A white hat may commit the same hacking acts as other hackers, but is not motivated by a malicious intent. A script kiddie uses hacking software in order to break into someone else's computer system. This software is usually obtained from another hacker who has figured out how to corrupt that specific program's system.


Most hackers are talented computer programmers. They know how to write software and how to remove the kinks from other programs that are written by the hacking community. The most important feature of someone who hacks, however, is the "hacker mindset," a set of beliefs that the hacker community has established. The core belief is that it is OK to hack into someone else's computer and to obtain, distribute or otherwise exploit any information that may be found in the process. Hackers usually strongly believe in their First Amendment rights and believe that hacking falls under this umbrella.

About the Author

Nellie Day is a freelance writer based out of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Her work can regularly be seen on newsstands, where her specialties include weddings, real estate, food and wine, pets, electronics, architecture and design, business and travel. Day earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.

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